Ken Duberstein: “A consummate Washington insider with an easy smile who loved gossiping with reporters”

From a New York Times obit by Sheryl Gay Stolberg headlined “Ken Duberstein, a Former Reagan Chief of Staff, Dies at 77”:

Ken Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff who helped resuscitate Ronald Reagan’s presidency and went on to become a successful lobbyist whose counsel was sought by leaders of both parties, died on Wednesday in Washington.

Mr. Duberstein was a consummate Washington insider and institutionalist, a big man with an easy smile and a generous laugh who could be hard-nosed, loved gossiping with reporters, believed in bipartisanship and offered his advice to anyone who asked — especially those who succeeded him in the chief of staff job, which he often described as being a “reality therapist” for the president.

“There are many so-called ‘wise men’ in Washington, but Ken was the real deal — not only because of his wisdom, but because he always delivered it with a smile and an encouraging pat on the back,” said Ron Klain, President Biden’s chief of staff….

Mr. Duberstein had joined the Reagan White House in 1981 as the president’s liaison to the House of Representatives, where he helped push through an extensive tax cut by getting conservative Democrats, known as blue dogs, to break with their party. His dogged ways earned him a nickname from Senator Howard H. Baker Jr., then the majority leader: Duberdog.

He later left the White House to work as a lobbyist, but at the entreaty of former Mr. Baker, who had become the chief of staff, Mr. Duberstein returned in 1987 to help “rescue Reagan in his time of trouble,” as Lou Cannon of The Washington Post wrote at the time. The Reagan presidency was floundering, in part because of public backlash over the Iran-contra scandal….

Mr. Duberstein, whom Mr. Cannon described as a “rumpled, wise-cracking ‘people person’ of relentless optimism and energy,” helped persuade Mr. Reagan to give a “mea culpa” speech that helped turn the presidency around. Mr. Duberstein was later named chief of staff, in July 1988, and served until the end of the Reagan presidency. He is believed to be the first Jewish person to hold that position.

He later founded and ran the Duberstein Group, a boutique lobbying firm whose clients included United Airlines, Goldman Sachs and Major League Baseball.

But at heart he was a White House staffer. He helped shepherd the Supreme Court nominations of David Souter and Clarence Thomas through the Senate during the presidency of George Bush, Mr. Reagan’s vice president, whom Mr. Duberstein worked hard to elect. (Justice Souter later presided over Mr. Duberstein’s 2003 wedding to Jacquelyn Fain Duberstein, then a television producer.)

He was also a close adviser to Colin Powell, one of his dearest friends, when the retired general was secretary of state to President George W. Bush. Mr. Powell died in October.

“Duberstein was more than a lobbyist,” said Steven Weisman, who covered the Reagan administration for The New York Times and is now vice president for publications and communications at the Peterson Institute in Washington. “He was a consigliere to many, especially Colin Powell when his reputation was damaged because of the Iraq war.”

Brooklyn-born, Mr. Duberstein was a Republican in the mold of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York — fiscally conservative, socially moderate. Even before Donald J. Trump was elected president, Mr. Duberstein was not shy about breaking with his party.

He endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 after Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee, picked Sarah Palin, then the governor of Alaska, as his running mate. In an interview with NBC at the time, Mr. Duberstein questioned both Ms. Palin’s qualifications and Mr. McCain’s judgment, saying Ms. Palin had been offered the job after just one interview.

“Even at McDonald’s, you’re interviewed three times before you’re given a job,” he said.

Republicans and Democrats alike paid tribute to Mr. Duberstein. Caroline Kennedy, who worked closely with him when Mr. Duberstein chaired a senior advisory committee for the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, called him a “constant and inspiring presence” to students.

“America has lost a great patriot,” said James A. Baker III, one of Mr. Duberstein’s predecessors as White House chief of staff and later Mr. Reagan’s Treasury secretary.

Kenneth Marc Duberstein was born on April 21, 1944….He grew up loving New York hot dogs and Broadway shows, often paying for standing-room-only tickets, his wife said. In his later years he became a trustee for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington.

He attended Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., graduating in 1965. He obtained a master’s degree in political science at American University in Washington the following year. There, he had his first taste of Capitol politics — as an intern for Senator Jacob Javits, Republican of New York.

“He would get in the car with Javits and drive him in order to have some time with Javits alone,” his wife said. “That’s how his love for government started.”…

In Washington, Mr. Duberstein was active in civic life. In addition to being a Kennedy Center trustee, he served on the boards of the Brookings Institution and the board of the Council on Foreign Relations. At lunchtime, he could often be spotted at Equinox, a restaurant down the block from the White House, dining on his favorite meal: scallops.

Mr. Duberstein also began a White House tradition, arranging bipartisan luncheons of current and former chiefs of staff to welcome newcomers to the job.

Joshua B. Bolten, a chief of staff to the younger Mr. Bush, said Mr. Duberstein had three bits of advice: First, remain humble. “Remember, you’re a staffer,” he would say. Second, “make sure you take good care of the first lady.” (Nancy Reagan was famous for feuding with Reagan aides.) And third, know that the president relies on you for straight advice.

“He used the same phrase each time: ‘You’re the reality therapist,’” Mr. Bolten said. “And I think that sort of captures Ken. He was a reality therapist for a lot of people.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg is a Washington Correspondent covering health policy. In more than two decades at The Times, she has also covered the White House, Congress and national politics. Previously, at The Los Angeles Times, she shared in two Pulitzer Prizes won by that newspaper’s Metro staff.
Also see the Washington Post obit by Emily Langer headlined “Kenneth M. Duberstein, President Reagan’s final chief of staff, dies at 77.” The opening grafs:

Kenneth M. Duberstein, a consummate political insider who won the respect of policymakers and power brokers on both sides of the aisle and reached the peak of his influence during the Reagan administration, serving as the president’s final chief of staff, died March 2 at a hospital in Washington.

Mr. Duberstein — affectionately called “Duberdog” by friends including the late Gen. Colin L. Powell — spent decades at or near the center of political power in Washington. He served two stints in the White House that bookended the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who credited him with helping to carry the administration over the “home stretch.”

Mr. Duberstein first joined the Reagan White House in 1981 as deputy assistant for legislative affairs. Soon promoted to the post of chief White House congressional liaison, he played a central role in pushing Reagan’s economic agenda, including substantial tax cuts, through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives….

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